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Sunday, January 15, 2017


Found by God in Christ and loved, our joy is to find others and share this with them, bring them to Jesus so they, too, might know this love and grace.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday after Epiphany, year A
   Texts: John 1:29-42; Isaiah 49:1-7

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

What would it take for you to share your faith with someone else?

What might convince you to take that risk?

Andrew and John, disciples of John the Baptist, start to follow Jesus in the Gospel today. But almost immediately Andrew finds his big brother Simon, and eagerly tells him, “We have found the Messiah!” Simon Peter doesn’t become Simon Peter without being brought to Jesus by his brother.

Mary and I were blessed to be at dinner with friends last week who shared about their faith practices, which were different from ours, and the joy and life they bring them. It was a blessing and a privilege. But what might Andrew the fisherman think about our culture where more often than not we’re reluctant to open up about what we believe, about what gives us life and joy?

Andrew’s joy in finding God’s anointed one couldn’t be kept inside; he had to share it. What would be like for us to have such uncontainable joy?

In Isaiah, God dreams that God’s light and healing would reach the end of the earth.

In a beautiful turn, God says, “It is too light a thing” for the Messiah just to restore Israel. All nations need God’s light. We see this in Christ, who came for the whole world, not just his people.

But these words are also given us in our anointing. Made God’s Christ in baptism, we are sent with the same mission Christ began. And if God has anything to say to us it might be, “It’s too light a thing that you might know my healing salvation just for yourselves, or for your congregation. I give you as a light to the nations.”

There is a joyful sharing of faith in this place. We live our hope together here. We meet the Triune God in Word and Sacrament, in song and prayer. We serve Christ together in this place, in our neighborhood, and in each other’s name wherever we live and move and work. This is a grace for us, and in this community the Spirit gives us life.

Andrew and John must have loved being together in Jesus’ presence, listening to him, talking to him. They’d followed the Baptizer hoping for God’s coming, and now in Jesus they knew that coming. But Andrew, at some point early on, left Jesus’ presence for a bit to find his brother. The author of First John says that his joy can only be complete when he shares the Good News.

What if our joy will not be complete if we keep what we know and find in this place to ourselves? If we never reach out to someone we know and say, “We have found God’s hope and life”?

This is the pattern we see in John’s Gospel repeatedly.

Jesus finds people, who go out and bring friends or relatives or neighbors to Jesus. John the Baptist points out the Lamb of God to his own disciples, who follow Jesus. Andrew brings Simon Peter. After this story, Jesus finds Philip, who finds his friend Nathanael. The Samaritan woman at the well meets Jesus and then gets her neighbors and brings them to see. Andrew and Philip bring Greek seekers to meet Christ for themselves.

This is how God’s light gets to the ends of the earth. When those who rejoice in the light, who are blessed to see by it, who find hope in the darkness and fear of this world in God’s love, say to another, “I’ve found something. Come with me and see.”

In John’s Gospel those who bring others don’t try to convince them of anything. They simply tell what they’ve found, and say, “Come with me and I’ll show you.”

How different that feels from what passes for evangelism in the churches today.

We’re in a time of deep confusion about evangelism across the Church.

The focus of so many articles and books and workshops is either fear or marketing. Mainline churches are frightened about their numbers dropping. There’s a pretty constant stream of gloom and doom writing about how the church isn’t going to survive.

The answer from many is marketing. Sell your congregation, your programs, your facilities. Make a splash in a busy world where people’s attention is divided and glossy, professional entertainment is the norm. Are you doing the right things in worship? Are you finding ways to attract the kinds of people you need?

Isn’t it striking how different that is from Andrew? He found the joy and hope of God’s coming, and needed to share that personally with his brother. The Samaritan woman met the Messiah and couldn’t wait to tell her neighbors.

Evangelism is never about building churches, or adding members. It’s never about worrying about survival, as if that’s Christ’s goal for us. Jesus never said that the ELCA needed to grow, or that Mount Olive should have a certain number of people. He simply came as the love of God in the flesh, invited people to follow, and those people started inviting other people to come and see Jesus themselves. And God’s light spread around the world.

It’s telling that John uses the word “found” a lot.

Andrew and John find Jesus. Andrew finds Simon. Jesus finds Philip. Philip finds Nathanael. Telling the Good News about what God is doing begins with first finding that Good News for oneself. Once we’ve found it, we find others we know and love and share it with them.

It’s how it often happens here. People tell others they know and love what they’ve found, about meeting God here, about the life and worship and service we do together, and invite them to come with them and see. Not to build up our numbers. But because the joy of being filled with God’s grace and knowing a community of faith in which you’ve met the Spirit of God is too explosive to keep inside.

None of us need to care about how many people belong to any denominations or any congregations. That’s never the point. Up or down, it’s not ours to worry about. The only question before us is, have we found God’s love and light for the world? If so, what will it take for us to tell someone who doesn’t know it what we’ve found?

It’s too light a thing, it’s too small, God says, to keep the joy of God’s love for the world for ourselves.

And if our forebears in faith have anything to say, it’s that our joy is incomplete if it’s kept to ourselves. It’s completed when it’s shared. When we set aside our fears, our reluctance, and share what we have found in Christ with someone else. Then we start finding real joy.

When we break our cultural rules that say keep faith private, and instead gently, lovingly, open up to another about what we’ve found in God. Then we start finding real joy.

This isn’t about being intrusive, or knocking on doors, or pushing our beliefs on others. It’s not about convincing others, or being right. It’s about being ready to share with those we likely already know and love what we have found in God, what brings life and joy to us and to the world.

So that God’s light of healing might reach the ends of the earth. And our joy might be complete.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I Have Given You

Pay attention to what is happening in these baptisms today: in these words and actions we find ourselves, our call, and our life in Christ for the sake of the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Baptism of Our Lord, year A
   Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

You might want to pay close attention to what’s happening with Jesus at his baptism, and what Isaiah says about it.

Since Pentecost, the Church has claimed we share the same call and promise and purpose as Jesus. We should watch Jesus closely, then, because what’s happening affects us.

But if you’re paying attention to Jesus, it might be easier to pay really close attention to what’s happening to Julia and Margaret this morning. To what we pray for them. To what we claim for them. We always see the water, the washing in God’s name. But as it was with Jesus, there is so much more to see, so much happening through that water and that washing that changes us.

From the beginning of this liturgy, when we blessed the waters of baptism and gave thanks for God’s gift, until the end when we are sent in peace to serve God, this day centers us so we find ourselves, we find our call, we find the life in Christ we are meant to be for the world.

If we do pay attention to this, what is happening and being said is stunning.

I have given you as a covenant to the people, God says.

Jesus claims this for himself as he begins his ministry. And we know it’s true: Jesus is the physical sign of God’s promise of eternal love and grace, God’s promise to the world in the flesh.

But here God says it’s true of us as well. Look at what we say about these girls. Their parents will promise to raise them in the faith so that they may proclaim Christ through their words and their deeds, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace. We will welcome them into a mission we say we all share, to bear God’s creative and redeeming Word to all the world.
We bear God’s promise, God’s redeeming Word, to the world.

How have we forgotten this? We are God’s covenant, God’s enfleshed promise to the world. In us God’s Word is borne into a world of pain and sorrow, and we are, each one of us, tangible signs that God has not abandoned this world.

I have given you to the world for this, God says in our baptism. Are you paying attention?

I have given you as a light to the nations, God says.

Jesus claims this for himself, too. “I am the light of the world,” he says in John. (ch. 8) “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” And we know it’s true: Christ brings light into our hearts and minds, and through the Spirit helps us see even in the deep darkness of this world.

But Christ says it’s true of us, too. As we heard Friday on Epiphany, Jesus said the same thing about us: “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5)

And look at what we say to these girls. They will each receive a candle, and Jesus’ next words after “you are the light of the world” will be said to them: “Let your light so shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We are God’s light, shining in the darkness, so others can see and know God.

How have we forgotten this? We are God’s light in a world filled with darkness and fear and hatred. Each of us already is light, we don’t have to create it. And when people see us, when we shine, even in our own little, timid, or as Isaiah puts it, “dimly burning” ways, they find hope and light and God. Let your light so shine, Jesus says.

I have given you to the world for this, God says in our baptism. Are you paying attention?

The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism and he is named the beloved Son of God.

And we know it’s true: Christ Jesus is God-with-us, the Son of God who shows us the heart of God’s love for us and for the world. In Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection, we know God’s love in ways we never could before.

But the Apostle Paul says it’s true of us, too. He tells us and the Galatians (ch. 3) that in the waters of baptism we have been clothed in Christ and in Christ Jesus we are all children of God.

And look at what we ask for these girls. After they are washed, hands will be laid on their heads, and we will pray for the Holy Spirit to come on them, using the same words the prophet declares about the Messiah: we will pray for the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the Spirit of joy in God’s presence, to come upon them.

We are given the Spirit’s wisdom, understanding, joy, counsel, so many gifts in our baptism, that we might, like Christ, bring God’s grace to the world.

How have we forgotten this? Time and again we’ve heard this, at every baptism, at every confirmation, at the Easter Vigil, at Pentecost. We are God’s Spirit-filled, beloved children, in whom God is well pleased. In that Spirit, like Christ Jesus, we are sent from our baptism into our mission in the world.

I have given you to the world for this, God says in our baptism. Are you paying attention?

What does this mean for us? It means we already are what God needs for the life of this world.

Pay attention to all that we are saying and doing when we baptize, to all that is said about and done to Jesus at his baptism and after, because that is our truth, too. These stunning truths belong to us in God’s grace, and God needs us for the life of the world as it sits in darkness and fear.

What will it look like for us to be God’s covenant in the world, tangible signs of God’s promise?

What will it look like for us to be God’s light in the world, shining into the darkness?

What will it look like for us to be filled with the Spirit and called beloved children, and sent with God’s power and life into the world?

That’s why we’re paying attention today. So we can begin to pray and discern together what God means this to look like in our lives.

I have given you as a covenant, as a light, as my Spirit-filled beloved children to the people of the world.

This is God’s baptismal promise to us, as much as it was to Jesus, as much as it is to Margaret and Julia today.

So let’s live that way. Be who we are. Trust who God says we are. In us people will know God’s promise in the flesh. In us people will see God’s light in the darkness. In us people will be touched by the work of the Spirit.

We’ve heard this for a long time. We might just have forgotten to notice these important things that have happened to us.

Now we see.

Now, with the grace of God, we go as God’s blessing into the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, January 6, 2017

See, and Be Radiant

God’s people have often lived in deep darkness, in the time of Herod, so our hope is their promise: God’s light still shines, and now in and through us.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Epiphany of Our Lord
   Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“In the time of King Herod.” That’s all Matthew needs to say.

His telling of the visit of eastern strangers to the Christ child begins with something everyone would understand: it happened “in the time of King Herod”. A tyrannical, paranoid despot who saw threats everywhere, and ruled by violence and fear. A king who killed his wife and several sons to eliminate perceived threats.

This story happened in the time of King Herod. Oh, Matthew’s readers say. So, this isn’t likely a happy story.

It seems to end well. The magi are warned in dream to take another road home, to avoid the unpredictable, violent king. Soon after, Joseph is warned in a dream, too, and he and Mary flee to Egypt with this two year old child. Magi are safe. Child is safe.

But this is the time of King Herod. Vulnerable, weak, powerless people are never safe when Herod is in charge. And the little town of Bethlehem weeps at the death of children, their mothers and fathers inconsolable.

Darkness shall cover the earth, Isaiah says, and thick darkness the peoples. It’s reality. There will be times of kings like Herod.

So as we face a time of darkness for so many who are vulnerable, weak, powerless in our country, as we look ahead grimly, having already seen signs of what is to come in these past weeks, we know at least this much. We are not the only ones to live in the time of King Herod.

Scripture’s story is that darkness always threatens.

Nothing Isaiah says here is new. Our ancestors in faith lived under unjust governments, threatened by people who abused power and worshipped violence. The story of the Hebrew people leads to the story of the early Church, and none had lengthy times where they didn’t have to look over their shoulder or account for what the powerful were up to.

Our own nation is defined by this truth. Today’s threats to immigrants and people of other faiths, disdain for those who speak truth about what is happening, organized attempts to disenfranchise, outright and open attacks of hate on people who are different, are deeply embedded in our history. Ask the Cherokee nation whether King Herod can be trusted. The president whose face stares out from our twenty dollar bill authorized the removal of nearly 46,000 Native Americans from their homes. 17,000 Cherokee were forced to march from the east coast to west of the Mississippi, and at least 4,000, probably more, died on that Trail of Tears. Ask our African-American sisters and brothers, who for most of our nation’s history have had to be leery of what King Herod might be up to, from slavery to lynching to redlining to Jim Crow to disenfranchisement.

Read any good history and it appears that darkness covering this nation is more the norm than the exception. Some of us have been privileged enough that we weren’t taught about much of what has been done to Bethlehem’s children in our own country. We have been privileged enough to believe that even if it happened, such times are past. We can no longer assume that or expect that.

Darkness will cover the earth, Isaiah warns, and thick darkness the peoples. Expect this, our Scriptures tell us.

Yet Isaiah declares: Arise, shine, for your light has come.

We gather tonight to celebrate God entering this gross darkness in person, and bringing light through this Christ to enlighten all peoples and end the darkness. This is our hope.

But remember how this light shines. It shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, John tells us. But it shines in darkness still.

We can only understand the light of Christ if we remember that though Jesus escaped Herod, the children of his village did not. We can only understand the light of Christ if we remember that this light doesn’t magically end all darkness. King Herod lived at least a few more years after this, and Christ Jesus didn’t end his life.

Lift up your eyes and look around, Isaiah says. God’s light shines, even in the darkness. But it shines in darkness, and often doesn’t look powerful enough to do much. This child escaped King Herod only to run into the power of Rome and a Roman cross. This child fled Israel for Egypt only to be turned over by his own people for death.

Yet we declare that this Christ, this light, still shines. Even in persistent darkness.

That paradox is our hope. Otherwise we declare tonight there is light from God in the darkness of the world, and either have to leave and pretend that we don’t see the darkness rising around us, or leave and wonder if we just celebrated a lie.

This is what we seek on Epiphany: an understanding of how God’s light actually is good news, in spite of the darkness, in spite of its weakness.

This has always been the Christian struggle. God chooses the way of the weak to come to us, Paul says, shaming the way of power. God’s true power is revealed in that very cross, in that vulnerable refugee family fleeing Herod. God’s light is seen not as a day of sunshine but as a lone candle shining in a vast room of darkness.

But that’s how it’s going to finally bring about full daylight. That one light is enough to see by. When you’re walking on a path in the dark with a candle or a flashlight, how much can’t you see? 90%? 95%? But you can see the two steps in front of you, and can take those steps. And if someone joins you with their candle, there’s a little more light, and more wisdom about which steps to take.

And if you are joined by more and more and more, eventually the darkness has no chance.

This is the way God is bringing light into the darkness of this world. And from the beginning of his life, this is the only way Jesus operates, under constant threat of the Herods, but being light. And when Jesus is finally caught and killed, God stuns death by breaking free of its hold. The light cannot be extinguished by darkness, not even by death.

And now here is our truth: we are also that light.

Isaiah says “See and be radiant.”

See God’s light in the darkness. And be radiant. Shine yourself.

You are the light of the world, Jesus told us. It is who we are. So we leave here and when we see the darkness, we don’t pretend the darkness isn’t real, and we don’t despair that there is no light from God.

We leave here as light. Maybe tiny, weak, trembling, but that’s the way God’s light works. We might shine just enough to illuminate the next step.

But even a tiny candle can be seen from a long distance in the dark. We may only see the next step ahead, but for a long way someone else can see us. And like those strangers from the east, they now have a light to follow in the darkness.

What a grace, that each of us is a light someone else might see, and be drawn to. Might come and say, “We have seen this light from a distance, and have come.” To find God. To find hope. To find light.

And imagine what others could see when we join all our little lights together.

Arise, shine, for your light has come. See, and be radiant.

It’s all there already in Isaiah. Darkness, gross darkness, shall cover the earth and peoples. But God’s light has come. Let us look and see and find hope.

And now we are God’s light. Let us radiate who we are and join all others who bear God’s light in the darkness.

We may not see the end of darkness in our days. But we witness that it cannot overcome God’s light, its days are numbered. It’s a slow, often frightening, often confusing way. But it was good enough for the Son of God, who apparently thought we were up to this.

So let’s assume it’s good enough for us, too, that we can do this. Be the light of the world we are.

Lift up your eyes and look around. It’s already happening.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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